POSTSCRIPT / March 5, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Somebody’s got to pay for EJKs

“I TAKE no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.”

This was the Gospel acclamation yesterday, which reader Elmer Yanga said “is very relevant to the burning national issues we have at the moment – the Death Penalty and ExtraJudicial Killings (EJKs).”

The acclamation reminds us of the expert observation of former President Fidel V. Ramos that police drug operatives in Oplan Tokhang often shoot to kill the suspect – instead of merely to disable him.

The police are trained on tactics and in the use of weapons. They operate with the advantage of superior force, operational control and their being clothed with authority.

At close range and with overwhelming superiority, if the police ever have to shoot a cowering suspect — sometimes with his children and wife pleading for his life — it should be just to disable him. Or they could even just wrestle him to the ground.

The police still have to show forensic evidence that their victims actually fired a gun and were shot while fighting back. The fact that the police are the ones investigating the cases of fellow policemen sometimes makes their report suspect.

A regime where human life is cheap

IN TOKHANG operations, killing a suspect on the spot must be the last option. In some summary executions, there was even no need to shoot the suspect already in handcuffs or in custody.

Under the current regime, it seems human life has become so cheap that poor defenseless Filipinos are routinely swatted down like flies by police raiders and motorcycle-riding masked vigilantes.

Why are there no government efforts to identify and charge the vigilantes? A widespread impression is that their executions are part of an organized, state-sanctioned campaign.

The Tokhang raiders apparently operate with the tolerance of President Rodrigo Duterte, emboldened by his assurance that he would protect them, double their pay, and in some cases hand them rewards for notable kills.

On many televised occasions, the President and Commander-in-Chief publicly ordered the police to kill (not to arrest, mind you) drug dealers and users, with his instruction dramatized by his hand making a slashing motion across the neck.

With that top-level assurance, some young police officers leaped, and soiled their hands and uniforms with their first murder.

The killers apparently have not asked themselves how Duterte could protect, reward, absolve or pardon them when their cases drag until that time when he is no longer president.

Tokhang a war against urban poor

DUTERTE approaches the narcotics scourge mainly as a crime problem, resulting in his engaging in literal “trouble-shooting” – that is, shooting down the problematic person without resolving the core issues.

The Philippine National Police appear to have jumped into action without a well-thought out holistic program addressing with equal vigor and adequate resources the social, medical and related aspects of the problem.

Statistics show that most of the more than 7,000 suspects killed so far came from the poor, the very constituency that helped elect Duterte to power.

The view that Tokhang is effectively a war against the urban poor is shared by foreign-based Human Rights Watch. Its emergencies director Peter Bouckaert described the summary executions as amounting to crimes against humanity.

Duterte scoffed at the charge amidst comments that he would be ultimately held responsible for the EJKs. He pointed out that drug traffickers are not part of humanity deserving his concern.

It seems that the police and their superiors find it easier to target the generally poor drug users and street peddlers.

Human Rights Watch research has shown, btw, that many of the 32 victims whose killings it investigated occasionally used methamphetamine (shabu) to give them energy to work long hours, and a few victims sold drugs to make ends meet.

The victims’ families do not have the resources nor the time (that could be devoted to earning some money for their hand-to-mouth existence) to file and pursue criminal cases. Looking for justice in the costly judicial labyrinth is a hopeless pursuit, so why bother?

Meanwhile, the PNP still have to neutralize with comparable ferocity the drug lords and their protectors in government, including police officers. Equally disturbing is the continued failure to interdict the key sources of the drug supply.

The authorities have said that much of the narcotics are smuggled from China. Also, many laboratories making illegal drugs are put up and managed by Chinese. But the wonder is that no Chinese has been gunned down like ordinary Filipino users.

Trimming branches, but keeping roots

AT THE RATE and in the manner Tokhang is being carried out, gunning down suspected small-time peddlers and users is as useless as trimming the branches of a spreading poisonous tree without taking out the roots.

The 72-year-old President who ironically professes belief in God has gained world attention with his bloody drug war. He has spoken back, sometimes cursed, at officials of the US, the European Union and the United Nations who had criticized him and his campaign.

The US State Department annual report on human rights around the world, released last Friday, noted that Philippine police and vigilantes “killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users” since July and that extrajudicial killings have “increased sharply.”

Mandated by the US Congress, the report documents human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories. This year’s report, put together by US embassy personnel, was largely completed during the tenure of then President Barack Obama.

Philippine officials were quoted in the report as saying that the government does not tolerate human rights violations or state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.

Last Friday, the local Commission on Human Rights urged the government to continue its war against drugs but without Oplan Tokhang, which it said should be reinstated only after it is reformed.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 5, 2017)

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